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Contents > Author > Margery Williams > The Velveteen Rabbit 1881- 1944
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Margery Williams
The Velveteen Rabbit
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There was once a velveteen rabbit, and in the beginning he was
really splendid. He was fat and bunchy, as a rabbit should be;
his coat was spotted brown and white, he had real thread whiskers,
and his ears were lined with pink sateen. On Christmas morning,
when he sat wedged in the top of the Boy's stocking, with a sprig
of holly between his paws, the effect was charming.

There were other things in the stocking, nuts and oranges and a
toy engine, and chocolate almonds and a clockwork mouse, but the
Rabbit was quite the best of all. For at least two hours the Boy
loved him, and then Aunts and Uncles came to dinner, and there
was a great rustling of tissue paper and unwrapping of parcels,
and in the excitement of looking at all the new presents the
Velveteen Rabbit was forgotten.

For a long time he lived in the toy cupboard or on the nursery floor,
and no one thought very much about him. He was naturally shy,
and being only made of velveteen, some of the more expensive
toys quite snubbed him. The mechanical toys were very superior,
and looked down upon every one else; they were full of modern
ideas, and pretended they were real. The model boat, who had
lived through two seasons and lost most of his paint, caught the
tone from them and never missed an opportunity of referring to
his rigging in technical terms. The Rabbit could not claim to be a
model of anything, for he didn't know that real rabbits existed;
he thought they were all stuffed with sawdust like himself, and
he understood that sawdust was quite out-of-date and should
never be mentioned in modern circles. Even Timothy, the jointed
wooden lion, who was made by the disabled soldiers, and should
have had broader views, put on airs and pretended he was
connected with Government. Between them all the poor little Rabbit
was made to feel himself very insignificant and commonplace, and
the only person who was kind to him at all was the Skin Horse.

The Skin Horse had lived longer in the nursery than any of the
others. He was so old that his brown coat was bald in patches and
showed the seams underneath, and most of the hairs in his tail had
been pulled out to string bead necklaces. He was wise, for he had
seen a long succession of mechanical toys arrive to boast and
swagger, and by-and-by break their mainsprings and pass away,
and he knew that they were only toys, and would never turn into
anything else. For nursery magic is very strange and wonderful,
and only those playthings that are old and wise and experienced
like the Skin Horse understand all about it.

"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying
side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy
the room. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and
a stick-out handle?"

"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing
that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time,
not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."

"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.

"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful.
"When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."

"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or
bit by bit?"

"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become.
It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people
who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully
kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has
been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in your
joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because
once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't
understand."

"I suppose you are real?" said the Rabbit. And then he wished he
had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive.
But the Skin Horse only smiled.

"The Boy's Uncle made me Real," he said. "That was a great many
years ago; but once you are Real you can't become unreal again.
It lasts for always."

The Rabbit sighed. He thought it would be a long time before this
magic called Real happened to him. He longed to become Real, to
know what it felt like; and yet the idea of growing shabby and
losing his eyes and whiskers was rather sad. He wished that he
could become it without these uncomfortable things happening
to him.

There was a person called Nana who ruled the nursery. Sometimes
she took no notice of the playthings lying about, and sometimes,
for no reason whatever, she went swooping about like a great
wind and hustled them away in cupboards. She called this "tidying
up," and the playthings all hated it, especially the tin ones. The
Rabbit didn't mind it so much, for wherever he was thrown he
came down soft.

One evening, when the Boy was going to bed, he couldn't find the
china dog that always slept with him. Nana was in a hurry, and it
was too much trouble to hunt for china dogs at bedtime, so she
simply looked about her, and seeing that the toy cupboard stood
open, she made a swoop.

"Here," she said, "take your old Bunny! He'll do to sleep with you!"
And she dragged the Rabbit out by one ear, and put him into the
Boy's arms.

That night, and for many nights after, the Velveteen Rabbit slept
in the Boy's bed. At first he found it uncomfortable, for the Boy
hugged him very tight, and sometimes he rolled over on him, and
sometimes he pushed him so far under the pillow that the Rabbit
could scarcely breathe. And he missed, too, those long moonlight
hours in the nursery, when all the house was silent, and his talks
with the Skin Horse. But very soon he grew to like it, for the Boy
used to talk to him, and made nice tunnels for him under the
bedclothes that he said were like the burrow the real rabbits lived
in. And they had splendid games together, in whispers, when Nana
had gone away to her supper and left the night-light burning on the
mantelpiece. And when the Boy dropped off to sleep, the Rabbit
would snuggle down close under his little warm chin and dream,
with the Boy's hands clasped close round him all night long.

And so time went on, and the little Rabbit was very happy -- so
happy that he never noticed how his beautiful velveteen fur was
getting shabbier and shabbier, and his tail becoming unsewn, and
all the pink rubbed off his nose where the Boy had kissed him.

Spring came, and they had long days in the garden, for wherever
the Boy went the Rabbit went too. He had rides in the wheelbarrow,
and picnics on the grass, and lovely fairy huts built for him under
the raspberry canes behind the flower border. And once, when
the Boy was called away suddenly to go to tea, the Rabbit was
left out on the lawn until long after dusk, and Nana had to come
and look for him with the candle because the Boy couldn't go to
sleep unless he was there. He was wet through with the dew
and quite earthy from diving into the burrows the Boy had made
for him in the flower bed, and Nana grumbled as she rubbed him
off with a corner of her apron.

"You must have your old Bunny!" she said. "Fancy all that fuss
for a toy!"

"Give me my Bunny!" he said. "You mustn't say that. He isn't a
toy. He's REAL!"

When the little Rabbit heard that he was happy, for he knew what
the Skin Horse had said was true at last. The nursery magic had
happened to him, and he was a toy no longer. He was Real. The
Boy himself had said it.

That night he was almost too happy to sleep, and so much love
stirred in his little sawdust heart that it almost burst. And into
his boot-button eyes, that had long ago lost their polish, there
came a look of wisdom and beauty, so that even Nana noticed
it next morning when she picked him up, and said, "I declare if
that old Bunny hasn't got quite a knowing expression!"


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

That was a wonderful Summer!

Near the house where they lived there was a wood, and in the
long June evening the Boy liked to go there after tea to play.
He took the Velveteen Rabbit with him, and before he wandered
off to pick flowers, or play at brigands among the trees, he always
made the Rabbit a little nest somewhere among the bracken,
where he would be quite cosy, for he was a kind-hearted little
boy and he liked Bunny to be comfortable. One evening, while
the Rabbit was lying there alone, watching the ants that ran to
and fro between his velvet paws in the grass, he saw two strange
beings creep out of the tall bracken near him.

They were rabbits like himself, but quite furry and brand-new.
They must have been very well made, for their seams didn't show
at all, and they changed shape in a queer way when they moved;
one minute they were long and thin and the next minute fat and
bunchy, instead of always staying the same like he did. Their feet
padded softly on the ground, and they crept quite close to him,
twitching their noses, while the Rabbit stared hard to see which
side the clockwork stuck out, for he knew that people who jump
generally have something to wind them up. But he couldn't see it.
They were evidently a new kind of rabbit altogether.

They stared at him, and the little Rabbit stared back. And all the
time their noses twitched.

"Why don't you get up and play with us?" one of them asked.

"I don't feel like it," said the Rabbit, for he didn't want to explain
that he had no clockwork.

"Ho!" said the furry rabbit. "It's as easy as anything," And he gave
a big hop sideways and stood on his hind legs.

"I don't believe you can!" he said.

"I can!" said the little Rabbit. "I can jump higher than anything."
He meant when the Boy threw him, but of course he didn't want
to say so.

"Can you hop on your hind legs?" asked the furry rabbit?

That was a dreadful question, for the Velveteen rabbit had no
hind legs at all! The back of him was made all in one piece, like
a pincushion. He sat still in the bracken, and hoped that the
other rabbit wouldn't notice.

"I don't want to!" he said again.

But the wild rabbits have very sharp eyes. And this one stretched
out his neck and looked.

"He hasn't got any hind legs," he called out. "Fancy a rabbit
without any hind legs." And he began to laugh.

"I have!" cried the little Rabbit. "I have got hind legs! I am sitting
on them."

"Then stretch them out and show me, like this!" said the wild
rabbit. And he began to whirl around and dance, till the little
Rabbit got quite dizzy.

"I don't like dancing," he said. "I'd rather sit still!"

But all the while he was longing to dance, for a funny new tickly
feeling ran through him, and he felt he would give anything in
the world to be able to jump about like these rabbits did.

The strange rabbit stopped dancing, and came quite close. He
came so close this time that his long whiskers brushed the
Velveteen Rabbit's ear, and then he wrinkled his nose suddenly
and flattened his ears and jumped backwards.

"He doesn't smell right!" he exclaimed. "He isn't a rabbit at all!
He isn't real!"

"I am Real!" said the little Rabbit. "I am Real! The Boy said so!"
And he nearly began to cry.

Just then there was a sound of footsteps, and the Boy ran
past near them, and with a stamp of feet and a flash of white
tails the two strange rabbits disappeared.

"Come back and play with me!" called the little Rabbit. "Oh,
do come back! I know I am Real!"

But there was no answer, only the little ants ran to and fro,
and the bracken swayed gently where the two strangers had
passed. The Velveteen Rabbit was all alone.

"Oh, dear!" he thought. "Why did they run away like that?
Why couldn't they stop and talk to me?"

For a long time he lay very still, watching the bracken, and hoping
that they would come back. But they never returned, and presently
the sun sank lower and the little white moths fluttered out, and
the Boy came and carried him home.


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Weeks passed, and the little Rabbit grew very old and shabby,
but the Boy loved him just as much. He loved him so hard that he l
oved all his whiskers off, and the pink lining to his ears turned grey,
and his brown spots faded. He even began to lose his shape, and
he scarcely looked like a rabbit any more, except to the Boy. To him
he was always beautiful, and that was all that the little Rabbit
cared about. He didn't mind how he looked to other people, because
the nursery magic had made him Real, and when you are Real
shabbiness doesn't matter.

And then, one day, the Boy was ill.

His face grew very flushed, and he talked in his sleep, and his little
body was so hot that it burned the Rabbit when he held him lose.

Strange people came and went in the nursery, and a light burned
all night and through it all the little Velveteen Rabbit lay there,
hidden from sight under the bedclothes, and he never stirred,
for he was afraid that if they found him some one might take him
away, and he knew that the Boy needed him.

It was a long weary time, for the Boy was too ill to play, and the
little Rabbit found it rather dull with nothing to do all day long. But
he snuggled down patiently, and looked forward to the time when
the Boy should be well again, and they would go out in the garden
amongst the flowers and the butterflies and play splendid games
in the raspberry thicket like they used to. All sorts of delightful things
he planned, and while the Boy lay half asleep he crept up close to
the pillow and whispered them in his ear. And presently the fever
turned, and the Boy got better. He was able to sit up in bed and
look at picture-books, while the little Rabbit cuddled close at his
side. And one day, they let him get up and dress.

It was a bright, sunny morning, and the windows stood wide open.
They had carried the Boy out on the balcony, wrapped in a shawl,
and the little Rabbit lay tangled up among the bedclothes, thinking.

The Boy was going to the seaside to-morrow. Everything was
arranged, and now it only remained to carry out the doctor's orders.
They talked about it all, while the little Rabbit lay under the bedclothes,
with just his head peeping out, and listened. The room was to be
disinfected, and all the books and toys that the Boy had played
with in bed must be burnt.

"Hurrah!" thought the little Rabbit. "To-morrow we shall go to the
seaside!" For the boy had often talked of the seaside, and he
wanted very much to see the big waves coming in, and the tiny
crabs, and the sand castles.

Just then Nana caught sight of him.

"How about his old Bunny?" she asked.

"That?" said the doctor. "Why, it's a mass of scarlet fever germs!
-- Burn it at once. What? Nonsense! Get him a new one. He
mustn't have that any more!"

And so the little Rabbit was put into a sack with the old picture-books
and a lot of rubbish, and carried out to the end of the garden
behind the fowl-house. That was a fine place to make a bonfire,
only the gardener was too busy just then to attend to it. He had
the potatoes to dig and the green peas to gather, but next morning
he promised to come early and burn the whole lot.

That night the Boy slept in a different bedroom, and he had a new
bunny to sleep with him. It was a splendid bunny, all white plush
with real glass eyes, but the Boy was too excited to care very much
about it. For to-morrow he was going to the seaside, and that in
itself was such a wonderful thing that he could think of nothing else.

And while the Boy was asleep, dreaming of the seaside, the little
Rabbit lay among the old picture-books in the corner behind the
fowl-house, and he felt very lonely. The sack had been left untied,
and so by wriggling a bit he was able to get his head through the
opening and look out. He was shivering a little, for he had always
been used to sleeping in a proper bed, and by this time his coat
had worn so thin and threadbare from hugging that it was no
longer any protection to him. Near by he could see the thicket
of raspberry canes, growing tall and close like a tropical jungle,
in whose shadow he had played with the Boy on bygone mornings.
He thought of those long sunlit hours in the garden -- how happy
they were -- and a great sadness came over him. He seemed to
see them all pass before him, each more beautiful than the other,
the fairy huts in the flower-bed, the quiet evenings in the wood
when he lay in the bracken and the little ants ran over his paws;
the wonderful day when he first knew that he was Real. He
thought of the Skin Horse, so wise and gentle, and all that he
had told him. Of what use was it to be loved and lose one's
beauty and become Real if it all ended like this? And a tear,
a real tear, trickled down his little shabby velvet nose and
fell to the ground.

And then a strange thing happened. For where the tear had
fallen a flower grew out of the ground, a mysterious flower, not
at all like any that grew in the garden. It had slender green
leaves the colour of emeralds, and in the centre of the leaves
a blossom like a golden cup. It was so beautiful that the little
Rabbit forgot to cry, and just lay there watching it. And presently
the blossom opened, and out of it there stepped a fairy.

She was quite the loveliest fairy in the whole world. Her dress
was of pearl and dew-drops, and there were flowers round her
neck and in her hair, and her face was like the most perfect
flower of all. And she came close to the little Rabbit and gathered
him up in her arms and kissed him on his velveteen nose that
was all damp from crying.

"Little Rabbit," she said, "don't you know who I am?"

The Rabbit looked up at her, and it seemed to him that he had
seen her face before, but he couldn't think where.

"I am the nursery magic Fairy," she said. "I take care of all the
playthings that the children have loved. When they are old and
worn out, and the children don't need them any more, then I
come and take them away with me and turn them into Real."

"Wasn't I Real before?" asked the little Rabbit.

"You were Real to the Boy," the Fairy said, "because he loved
you. Now you shall be Real to every one."

And she held the little Rabbit close in her arms and flew with
him into the wood.

It was light now, for the moon had risen. All the forest was
beautiful, and the fronds of the bracken shone like frosted
silver. In the open glade between the tree-trunks the wild
rabbits danced with their shadows on the velvet grass, but
when they saw the Fairy they all stopped dancing and stood
round in a ring to stare at her.

"I've brought you a new playfellow," the Fairy said. "You
must be very kind to him and teach him all he needs to know
in Rabbit-land, for he is going to live with you for ever and ever!"

And she kissed the little Rabbit again and put him down on the
grass.

"Run and play, little Rabbit!" she said.

But the little Rabbit sat quite still for a moment and never
moved. For when he saw all the wild rabbits dancing around
him he suddenly remembered about his hind legs, and he didn't
want them to see that he was made all in one piece. He did
not know that when the Fairy kissed him that last time she had
changed him altogether. And he might have sat there a long time,
too shy to move, if just then something hadn't tickled his nose,
and before he thought what he was doing he lifted his hind toe
to scratch it.

And he found that he actually had hind legs! Instead of dingy
velveteen he had brown fur, soft and shiny, his ears twitched
by themselves, and his whiskers were so long that they brushed
the grass. He gave one leap and the joy of using those hind legs
was so great that he went springing about the turf with them,
jumping sideways and whirling round as the other did, and he
grew so excited that when at last he did stop to look for the
Fairy she had gone.

He was a Real Rabbit at last, at home with the other rabbits.


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Autumn passed and Winter, and in the Spring, when the days
grew warm and sunny, the Boy went out to play in the wood
behind the house. And while he was playing, two rabbits crept
out from the bracken and peeped at him. One of them was brown
all over, but the other had strange markings under his fur, as
though long ago he had been spotted, and the spots still showed
through. And about his little soft nose and his round back eyes
there was something familiar, so that the Boy thought to himself:

"Why, he looks just like my old Bunny that was lost when I had
scarlet fever!"

But he never knew that it really was his own Bunny, come back
to look at the child who had first helped him to be Real.

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